What more quintessential closeup image of Houston is there — the kind you really aren’t likely to come across too many other places — than the one that shows a 17-story office tower under construction right next door to a single-family home? So when you hear of a Montrose resident complaining that the huge and noisy construction crane planted just a few feet beyond his fence to construct the “boutique” building at 2229 San Felipe is causing cracks in the concrete patio and the interior walls of his home, that the smell of diesel is overwhelming whether he’s in the back yard or inside on the ground floor, and that the fumes and noise from the regular Saturday concrete pours cause regular headaches for family members — well, it kinda does make you sit up and pay attention, if not simply to marvel at the unique properties of Houston development regulations and practices that allow such remarkable juxtapositions in our midst.
Still, the owner of the home at 2244 Welch St. might be forgiven if he doesn’t get so philosophical about the wondrous scene arrayed before him. “No representative of Hines has EVER come to us to express any concern about what they are doing,” he wrote over the weekend to an online newsgroup. “Even the construction workers admit they are not comfortable with the position of this crane. So everyone else got paid off, just not us I guess.”
This past Saturday, he filed a report about the situation with the EPA. What happened next?
The windows on this 1964 Sharpstown Country Club Estates property showcase a variety of ways of admitting light while altering views in or out. But the windows looking into the back yard are different: The stretch of sound barrier across the back of the lot, blocking the Southwest Fwy., is just a blank canvas. A really big one.
COMMENT OF THE DAY: A DIFFERENCE IN FREEWAY SOUND QUALITY “I used to live upstairs in a 4 plex on the other side of the Spur on 59. I never found the freeway noise bothersome even though I could practically see the whites of the drivers’ eyes from my bedroom window. It was a constant whooshing that I just pretended was the sound of the ocean . On the other hand I later lived blocks and blocks away from I-10 but the sound of 18 wheelers shifting gears used to annoy me when I was trying to sleep. It depends more on the traffic patterns than distance.” [Tangyjoe, commenting on Porch-Sitting on the Edge in Woodland Heights]
ABOUT THOSE “EARLY MORNING” CONCRETE POURS A neighbor of the Park Memorialconstruction site in Rice Military writes: “Just a question on Houston city ordinances. Are there any restrictions on construction in the middle of the night? I was awakened at 3 am this morning by a massive concrete pour. The site has been lit up with floodlights and there are multiple trucks with back up signals, machinery noise and yelling workers. I found some general noise ordinances but wondered if there are any other rules? This is as bad as any nightclub or worse.” [Swamplot inbox; previously on Swamplot]
COMMENT OF THE DAY: THAT HOUSTON SOUND “I used to live 750 feet from 610. And before that, I lived 1,000 feet from active railroad tracks and kept my windows open at night. The sound that eminated from these sources would definitely exceed City or State standards, but is exempted. I had no right to silence and nor did I care. I even sort of miss the trains and the booming noises from the hump yard a mile to the south. I wish we had that in the Boulevard Oaks area and the Museum District. It’d make them a little more authentically Houston.” [TheNiche, commenting on Headlines: Noise Ordinance Complaints; Galveston’s Coming ‘Maginot Line’]
COMMENT OF THE DAY: KEEP THOSE TRAINS MOVING BY MY HOUSE, PLEASE “This is a great photo of the cars that Union Pacific parks behind our neighborhood on a constant basis. I’ve been fighting them for 1 1/2 years now about leaving running refrigerated cars there overnight. Those suckers are LOUD. Yeah, I understand the track was there way before my house but we didn’t have this problem until UP started using it as a delivery point for a local distributor 2 years ago. Miserable sleep for 10 households just so UP can save a few bucks. When the cars aren’t running, I actually enjoy the constant change of scenery. We’ve seen some pretty interesting stuff back there.” [JenBen00, commenting on Headlines: Affordable Housing Demos; Young Houston]
A small group of homeowners that includes residents of Timbergrove, Brookwoods Estates, and Holly Park have filed a lawsuit against the Federal Highway Administration claiming that the agency approved the expansion of Hwy. 290 along the 38-mile stretch from 610 to FM 2920 last August without properly analyzing how noise from the project would affect their properties. In the filing, the plaintiffs say they are not opposed to the project, but are concerned that TxDOT’s environmental studies of its planned elevated roadways at the 610 and I-10 interchanges — some of which will reach as high as 100 ft. in the air — didn’t account for noise impacts on Memorial Park and the Houston Arboretum as well.
THE LUNCHTIME RACKET AT BRADY’S LANDING Visiting the Houston Ship Channel on a promotional “toxic tour” of sites where the air will likely be invigorated once nearby refineries get chugging on the Canadian tar sands headed for Houston through the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, Perry Dorrell stops by the scenic Brady’s Landing Restaurant during lunchtime: “During the evening the restaurant is like many others in the city: bustling with patrons and staff, the parking lot busy with diner traffic. During the day, however, the region’s oppressive noise is invasive and obnoxious; right next door a facility is dry-docking barges and a team of several men operating industrial-grade pressure washers removes barnacles from their hulls. Cranes swing containers to and from foreign freighters, crashing and booming. The warehouses directly across the channel are beehives of activity, with stevedores operating forklifts, shifting and stacking and slamming pallets of material. It was amazing how loud it was, a phenomenon I never noticed in my visits at night to dine. On the other side of the restaurant a steamshovel was loading and unloading a smoking, 200-hundred-foot high brown pile of … something, fertilizer-like in appearance. No accompanying aroma, fortunately. Maybe we were upwind.” [Brains and Eggs; previously on Swamplot]
THE LINGERING SOUNDS OF SELLING BY THE FREEWAY Almost a week after the daylong feeder road-side furniture sale they held on the abandoned grounds of the former Landmark Chevrolet next to I-45 North near the West Gulfbank exit, wacdesignstudio designers and guerrilla marketers Scott Cartwright and Jenny Lynn Weitz-Amaré Cartwright were still feeling the effects: “We were there for nine hours, thankfully it was cloudy… but the sound pollution really affected one of us to the point that even today our head and bodies still hurt… can you imagine how hard of a job road workers have when building or fixing the streets?” [Swamplot inbox; previously on Swamplot]
The Wall Street Journal‘s Katy McLaughlin picks on a few loud restaurants:
Many of the most cutting-edge, design conscious restaurants are introducing a new level of noise to today’s already voluble restaurant scene. The new noisemakers: Restaurants housed in cavernous spaces with wood floors, linen-free tables, high ceilings and lots of windows—all of which cause sound to ricochet around what are essentially hard-surfaced echo chambers.
Upscale restaurants have done away with carpeting, heavy curtains, tablecloths, and plush banquettes gradually over the decade, and then at a faster pace during the recession, saying such touches telegraph a fine-dining message out of sync with today’s cost-conscious, informal diner. Those features, though, were also sound absorbing. . . .
Restaurateurs often say the only complaints they get about noise are from older clientele. As people age—and particularly when they are 65 or older—they often lose acuity in hearing high-frequency sounds, making it harder to understand speech, says Mark Ross, a professor emeritus of audiology at the University of Connecticut.